Why I Love Bev

“Sweet sun, send me the moon…” —Sara Bareilles

This is my friend, Bev. She met me at a hotel in downtown Portland this weekend.

From the outside, it looked like a regular hang with an old friend. We walked up and down the sneaky corridors of the city, ending at the waterfront with salad and more conversation. Along the way, we passed aggressive panhandlers, the occasional tourist, and a horse (a young kid wearing a horse head like it was nothing — keep Portland weird).

We interacted with shop keepers, too. They mostly responded to my beautiful, kind friend, while I kept to myself and hung back in the shadows as is my habit.

I do this, because I learned long ago that people see through me. I don’t know whether it’s me or them or a combination of both. I grew up with strong personalities, popular life of the party types… My parents, my brother. I gravitate toward those types like a moth to the flame. They’re all I know. Kind of a vicious cycle.

I was also born looking like this:

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This is a picture from several years ago, when I was over 200 pounds.

I came from this:

20131128_112603As you can see, my mom is beautiful. As a baby here, I also started off with the potential to be her spitting image. Only, people scared me. I clung to her whenever she visited with her many friends. I cried whenever she left, which was often, to tend bar or party. I used to watch her put on make-up, fancy dresses and shoes, do up her nails. She never left the house without make-up on and her hair done, not even to go to the grocery store.

Somehow, even as a young child, I knew I could never measure up. I knew people would laugh at me for even trying (true story). So I stopped, somewhere between my birth and college.

I’d put myself out there in stops and starts, only to be put back in my place by a careless, thoughtless stranger, or one of my husband’s many musician friends who only gave me a passing glance or a friendly acknowledgement when they were forced to. Then, I’m sorry, what was your name again?

I grew into the habit early on of looking down, even when I walked. I avoided looking at people for fear they would attack me (true story) verbally or physically. Even when I tried to smile and strike up a conversation at the checkout stand, nine times out of 10, they wouldn’t respond. Then, the next customer would come up and the checker would suddenly come to life.

It was a million times worse when I showed up in public with my family. The world would show them the kind of respect and consideration of a Hollywood starlet slumming it.

Servers, nurses, teachers, the physical therapy staff my son sees twice a week…everyone practically genuflects at my husband’s, my mom’s, my son’s feet, remembering them weeks, months, years later, practically knocking me over to get to them.

At some point, I wanted to quit trying. Trying tired me out, shamed me, set me up for failure.

Unfortunately, the eternal optimist in me plus forgetting (to remember my place) would cause me to put myself out there again. This past Sunday, while my husband checked us out of the Hilton after his gig for a Rotary Club Conference, I went to the nearby food area for StumpTown coffee and a snack.

There, I heard the most beautiful voice coming out of a person working the HopCity Tavern & Market. I went over and told her so. I felt I was very approachable, kind, and complimentary about her voice. I said she should be singing, that she was better than most of the singers I hear, and on and on, things normal people say to one another.

She said thank-you, but the rest of her said, “Get away from me, weirdo.”

When I returned with my husband, she talked to him like they were old friends, engaging him in the kind of conversation she would’ve had with me had I been him.

I went back to get another snack less than an hour later, alone, and she acted like I was new. Right through me.

I don’t have many friends. On the surface, it looks like I do. Even my actual friend Bev commented on it.

They’re acquaintances, forced into my life because of activities related to my more popular family members, mostly my musician husband and my athlete son. They would never give me the time of day, if left to their own devices. I do not fool myself into thinking they would, although some days, when we are all getting along, I almost can convince myself this were real.

I met Bev through my musician husband to tell you the truth. He and her husband both played in the worship band of the same church.

But she wasn’t like the others.

She sought me out, not because of my husband, but because of me.

She was nice to me, because she liked me, not because she had to as the pastor’s wife, or the wife of Ed, the talented piano player in the band everyone wanted to get close to. Bev wasn’t a musician or a part of the church choir. She was the wife of a worship band musician too, with children of her own.

If I met Bev on my own, she’d still treat me with the same consideration, like I was a treasure in her life.

I feel safe, comfortable, and valued around her. I feel … normal.

We met in 2002. We’re still friends.

We bought their house when my son was three (he’s 15 now) and her husband had to move back to their hometown in Portland for work. We’ve kept in touch. When we visit Oregon, we try to make a stop to catch up with them.

Bev’s also very much like me, not at all a strong personality. I personally think she should be the most popular girl in the room. She has so much class and grace, she’s funny and makes me laugh, and she sees the genuine in people, through the crap they put on.

I’ve always felt odd and not in a good way. I could hardly stand to see my own reflection, even by accident. I’m that self-conscious about my freakishness.

It’s rare to be around someone who can make me completely forget myself and feel so good about myself at the same time.

My friends could pick me out in a crowd every time. That they would want to even try… Well, I hold onto that like a life line.

 

 

 

The Time William Hurt Schooled Me in a Corridor

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CORRIDOR PHOTO: Daniel Tseng, Unsplash

It was William Hurt, my college crush, staring at me in that way he did in all the movies I’d binge-watch.

He loomed over the room in a shadow, about to shoot from behind until I turned around to face him. With a mix of rage, frustration, and something I couldn’t identify until he spoke, this actor turned into every man I’d ever loved.

“You want to know why I’m still standing here when I’d rather end your life right now?”

He began to stroll, then crawl on his hands and knees toward me, narrating the story of my life in the footnotes and in parentheses… the extras I never noticed, taking me back to my first language.

These were flattering, surprising, perplexing revelations, dropped like flower petals that rotted at my feet as I backpedaled then scooted from one room into another when a casual conversation through the vents grew louder.

By the time he reached me, resolve disappeared, leaving him to show me physically in one, long, drawn-out affair I will never forget. The salty sea air, fresh linen breeze, moms hanging their shirts out to dry in the afternoon sun, and fresh paint, as he tried to warm my cold naked body with his mouth.

When he finished, laying there helpless — the dying eyes of the besotted — we both saw his penis oozing blood into a puddle next to three perfectly shaped tablets of pain pills.

Rings

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PHOTO: Dev Benjamin, Unsplash

“Mail it now. In a few days, this world will go away.”

By the time they took his soul, in fleshy parts he never knew he had, a stranger with a smirk knocked on this strange silvery door (I just walked through) and handed me an innocent package. The brown paper box reminded me of freshly mowed lawns, Easter Egg hunts, and you blocking the noon in the desert between then and now.

Your rings, gold and worn, almost warm, I wear them now, waiting for the men in the gray coats and the foreign accents to come for me.

Dumbass

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PHOTO: Jamie Street, Unsplash

I survived my first volunteer job manning a concession stand at my son’s high school last night. I tried to make light of the volunteer job, but deep down inside, I was scared I would fuck it up (like I always do).

Because I secretly believe I’m a dumbass.

Not self-deprecating dumb. Real dumb. Dumber than the developmentally disabled and the drug-induced off the streets.

I’ve always been scared of this. Always. It has nothing to do with humble-bragging or begging for attention, either.

For the longest time, I kept an appointment book full of even the simplest chores that other people take for granted. My mom and brother read it once, laughing over the first mandate: “Wake up. Brush hair.”

“How much of a dumbass are you?” my brother James said, in between howling hysterically. “You’re 21. You need an appointment book to remind you to do what you do naturally. Wake up? Wake up! Absolute dumbass.”

I didn’t know how to tell them this helped my mind focus on the real stuff I had to remember, names, dates, places related to my job or my health, or even a rare get-together. Or that basically, my mental capacity is that of a very precocious, but very naive four-year-old child.

Somewhere in the middle of my volunteering at the concession stand, my best friend blurted out, “What are you, a dumbass??” as I spouted hot water from the hot water thingie (used for cup o’noodles) into an empty water jug for these friends of my son’s, to help them keep warm, because another volunteer mom the other day did the same thing for them.

Later, her words stung as we both realized I’d been handing out hot cocoa and apple cider without sleeves or lids. (I remembered the spoon.)

When I got home and all through today, I relived the night, counting all the bone-headed mistakes I’d made, including the time I told everyone the peanuts were 25 cents instead of a dollar. They were in a bin along with the 25-cent items; I’d completely spaced on what another volunteer told me before.

Today, I face another dilemma. I have to decide if my son is ready to rejoin his soccer team for practices after almost four weeks of his MCL sprain/avulsion fracture. Maybe he can play the last game.

The problem is, his orthopedic PA-C keeps saying my son James has to wear the knee brace at all times, except for rest and PT. The PT keeps asking when the knee brace is coming off, and that he can’t work with James on more exercises until then. Then, his regular doctor, at his wellness checkup earlier, offered to clear him for practices if we returned for another check on the knee.

James can’t practice without a clearance from a doctor. One doctor is willing to give that clearance so long as James can run and kick without pain (he can), the other “doctor,” the actual guy specializing in these types of injuries, says no way, to wait until the Tues. appt. to see how the knee is after a full four weeks of healing.

What do I do? I don’t want to face the orthopedic guy after going over his head with the regular doctor. I don’t want to hold my son back if he’s actually ready to practice but is possibly held up by the overly cautious (his regular doctor’s words) healing time.

Remember, I’m a dumbass, a very scared dumbass.

gauze

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Even in my dreams I am initialing statements, hoarding books to put away. But for a brief moment, he was here lifting me as easily as a rag doll, his eyes shining, his laugh a warm compress for everything. His kisses… proof that I loved once.

For a brief moment, I felt undeniable, blinding happiness.

The pain now, almost unbearable. My body, a foreign object weighing me down.

I miss you.

bass

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PHOTO: Derek Truninger, Pittsburgh

For Jon …

obvious, by now he’s stationed himself directly in front of me naked save for the bass dangling around those long shoulders, those spider web fingers

in front of an audience of an even dozen, he pronounces my name, as if quoting Scripture, as if we are the only two people in this room outside — seconds before the first sounding notes

that naked laugh, I hear it in my head still as I lie awake, wishing I were back there, wishing I were the young, lithe girl he lifted in his skinny white-boy arms before sending me on my way to a scavenger hunt, where he knows I will sneak into the nearest fountain to wash my dirty hands, where he has a band mate shower my half-open blouse with perfectly geometrical ice cubes (because he likes the way my breasts look in the dying sunlight)

in this dream, I am someone else, another girl, his for the rest of time

in this life, I am nobody special other than the one who gave him one year’s worth of freedom

Cleats

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My son’s one-of-a-kind Nike Magista Obra II Tech Crafts: He would only wear them once.

Yesterday, I braved rush hour traffic, a near-empty tank of gas, and an atypical Northwest cold front to watch a friend’s JV game. I was also there to give Austin my son’s $314-$199 Nike cleats.

My son James wanted these cleats for the longest time, tracking the price for almost a year, trying to find any pair in his size 9. He finally found one available a few weeks into JV soccer season, after making his first tryouts.

I remember bringing them to his second, pre-season game. On the way, a part of my fan belt flew out, preventing me from getting to the stadium in time to hand over the cleats.

They waited until the first game of the season. He enjoyed the hell out of those cleats, proclaiming them as “comfortable” as he imagined — an important asset on the soccer pitch.

Two days later, the day before an even more important game against a rival high school, my son was at practice — 30 minutes left — going for the ball in a scrimmage when he felt his knee hyperextend backward and heard a pop.

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This is Austin, who’s become quite the mid and forward. He also made his school’s JV team, and sometimes plays for Varsity.

He’d badly sprained his MCL, causing an avulsion fracture of the ligament. Two doctors told him he’d need to stop playing for six to eight weeks, effectively cutting my son out of his first season playing JV.

It’s been about three weeks of resting that knee, starting PT, and trying to keep the hinged brace on. About two days ago, I talked him into letting someone borrow the new cleats, someone who can still enjoy playing soccer this season.

James pushed back a little, talking about the cost of those precious cleats, how hard it was for him to find a pair in his size (most kids his age have larger feet), that there aren’t any other pair like it. He could still wear them to practice or even the last game if he somehow healed faster.

“But they’re just sitting in your room. Don’t you want someone to get some use out of them?”

“I like to look at them, mom,” like a trophy or something.

Finally, he gave in. “You’re right. I’m being selfish. I need to let them go.”

After going back and forth with his orthopedic doctor, another James, about wearing the hinged knee brace, we received this message from the office:

“I understand that James does not want to wear the brace. He should wear it for as long as was discussed. He should wear it until I see him again. Healing takes time. Bone healing takes less time than ligament healing. The last thing he wants is a loose, floppy ligament in his knee. That would set him up for arthritis at a young age and likely further injuries like ACL tear. And it bears mentioning that these would prevent participation in sports.

I’ll be seeing you in about 10 days. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

Jim”

For a kid, it really sucks to sit at home while friends are outside having fun. I know, it’s happened to me way too many times, because my parents always had dinner an hour earlier than everyone else on my block.

My son had already received back-to-back rejections at soccer Select/Premier tryouts last spring and had to make-do with basically a throwaway team.

When he called to exuberantly say, “Mom, I made JV!” it was the happiest moment of his life. Pride and vindication. He couldn’t wait to play real, competitive soccer with his high school friends.

Now, he must turn his back on the game, the crowd, the cheering, the action, and focus only on rehabbing his knee. He must ignore the thrill of immediate gratification and glory to heal and recover, on the sidelines, a helpless spectator. He must tune out the noise and quietly go about the lonely process of healing.

He must watch his friends have the time of their lives, knowing he can’t go in there with them.

I like to quote the Tom Hanks character, another Jimmy, in one of my favorite movies, “A League Of Their Own.” In a scene with Geena Davis that still gives me chills, he tells her why baseball is worth all the sacrifice and suffering:

“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great.”

That’s life, James. Only those who aren’t afraid to tough out the hard times get stronger and grow to appreciate the good times. You’ll appreciate the good times even more, because you’ve earned them, every last one.

If success came easy, it wouldn’t mean as much. Honest to god, that’s true.

That quote isn’t just for my son, who has had to face so much disappointment in his young life. That quote’s also for me, a mom who’s had to watch her only child go through so much sacrifice and suffering, and hates that he only got to play one game in those special cleats.

We both need to let go.

And when we reach that light at the end of the tunnel, we’ll never forget what we’ve been through, so we can help the next person who finds himself in a similar situation.

That’s the real reason we’re here.

His precious cleats won’t go to waste.